Lessons Learned, Part VII
Father Ron Nuzzi ’95
Executive Director, Catapult Learning, LLC
Emeritus Professor, Institute for Educational Initiatives, University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
Most people think that Catholic educators are highly proselytizing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Catholic educational institutions are great places to learn about and grow in faith, but they are also warm and welcoming, offering respect to all comers. God’s work and will are accomplished and celebrated and the shared experience of a common faith adds a richness to the educational environment that I believe creates a synergy that is great for learning.
We can all overcome adversity. In 1960, my left eye was injured, leaving it scarred and damaged permanently. With surgery, exercises, eye patches, drops and corrective lenses, I have been able to function relatively normally. I don’t have much peripheral vision on my left, so I work hard to keep life happening on my right.
I make a mean Italian sausage and peppers — the hotter the better. I love pizza but prefer it in authentic Italian style: fresh ingredients, only a single topping or two used sparingly, wood-fired, slightly burnt crust around the edges and a bit doughy in the middle.
At my ordination in 1984, my maternal grandparents, Giulia and Orazio DePasquale, gifted me a chalice and paten. It was handcrafted in wood by Benedictine monks, lined with silver, and engraved with a dedication honoring my grandparents. As a reminder of the love of family at every Mass, this and paten are among my most prized possessions.
I encourage incoming college first-year students to be open, take risks and try new things. I encourage them not to be constrained by their high school selves or by what they think of their high school selves. College is new territory.
“Be open, take risks and try new things.”
I laugh rather easily, but have a funny bone for poorly articulated translations, musical parodies and political humor.
It would surprise people to know that priests don’t get daily faxes or emails from the Vatican or their bishop with talking points for that day or instructions to follow. The Church is a fairly loosely coupled organization, all things considered.
I have dedicated most of my professional career in Catholic higher education to educating and forming adult leaders for Catholic schools, mostly aspiring principals and superintendents. They are undoubtedly the best of students — motivated, self-directed and energetic. In our shared desire for inspired leadership, a motto developed gradually over the years: The lukewarm go elsewhere. The Church desperately needs passionate leaders today.
Enjoy every opportunity that ministry presents and thank God for the people you can be privileged to serve.
Josh and I actually met our first weekend freshman year. We both attended the Callings retreat through Campus Ministry before school started, but on separate weeks. Fortunately, we attended the same dry party our first weekend on campus. Josh asked for my number that night and texted me to make sure I made it back to Marycrest okay. I didn’t think anything of it because it is so common to exchange numbers in the first few weeks of school, but I do remember calling my mom the next day and telling her about how nice all the guys are at college. Fast forward to the last weekend on campus. Saying he needed a break from all the graduation celebrations, he walked me to Serenity Pines next to Marycrest. The whole area was lit by tea lights and he got down on one knee and proposed. I quickly said “yes,” and our parents came out of hiding with a bottle of Champaign to celebrate with us. We married in the UD chapel eight months later.
Two different phrases repeat in my head about what it means to be a Flyer. The first is community. I know it becomes one of those words that you roll your eyes at, but at UD community is truly something unique. The other is “Learn. Lead. Serve.” I feel like we have both taken that mentality into our professions and our household. We took serve very literally when we decided to become foster parents and serve our community in that way.
I had known since I was a kid that I was going to be a foster parent. Josh and I both came from families that adopted children. My mentality was that I didn’t want to be a mom, I wanted to be a foster mom. But when our daughters were dropped off at our door, we became parents. We don’t have biological children and parenting was new to us. On her way out the door, our social worker basically said we had a month to decide if we wanted to adopt or not. I was 23 years old, looking at these beautiful babies for the first time, and not ready to make a decision like that. Seven months after Jasmine and Katelynn came home, their little sister Jo joined the crew two days after she was born. When two became three, my heart started to change. We felt complete. God had changed my heart about adopting.
“Learn about the needs in your community.”
I try to be an advocate for both fostering and adopting. If someone feels a tug like maybe they are supposed to do this, then go for it. Educate yourself and learn about the needs in your community when it comes to arguably our most vulnerable population. I’m not going to lie and say fostering and/or adopting children that come from trauma is easy, but it is worth it.
My favorite thing about being a mom is being a part my children’s milestone moments.
We are two hours from Disney World door-to-door and we have completely fallen in love. Every time we go, we like to try something new. One of my favorite treats to this day is the Dole Whip. On a hot Florida day, nothing beats splitting a Dole Whip with my family while in Adventureland at our favorite place on Earth.
One of the people who’ve influenced me most is my grandpa, David Phillips ’62. He taught me the value of hard work, spouse selection and serving your community in a way only you can. He truly loves UD, and I don’t think I would be the person I am today without his values and guidance.
I have two life rules that I live by. The first is, “Worry about what you have control over, forget the rest.” This advice was given to me by my high-school wrestling coach with the purpose of reminding me to focus on the achievable. It has really helped me keep perspective in life’s conflicts and to focus on how to reach my goals. He described it like driving; I am responsible for my own actions and to be aware of traffic, but I cannot control other drivers. The second was actually given to me at UD. “Be where your feet are.” I frequently remind myself of this to ensure I enjoy the process of reaching my goals, and not just the destination. This has been especially meaningful for me when we have family activities like visiting Disney World, going to the beach or playing games with the kids.
Adopting was a difficult decision. We spent the first six months of their placement going back and forth about it. Looking back now, it was almost comedic how frequently we would change our minds and never manage to come to a consensus. We struggled because it was not our original reason for fostering; we both saw reunification as the primary objective. But as we found our new normal and integrated them into our families, especially once the youngest arrived, we began to change. The more time we spent with these amazing girls, the more we struggled with the idea of being on a path without them. After one particularly difficult conversation, I remember looking Rachel directly in the eyes, and I could tell we had both made up our minds to make them Yohos.
“We had both made up our minds to make them Yohos.”
If you are considering adoption, get training to be trauma-informed. The perspective we were taught in that training has been invaluable for how we approach parenting.
The best thing about being a father has been watching our kids play and grow. From the endless “why” questions to the constant requests to climb on my back and shoulders, I try to enjoy every moment. It has been a much-needed balance with the intensity of graduate school. The worst part of parenting is the night shifts. In general, I function pretty well without sleep (the same cannot be said about Rachel), but the kids seem to have this sixth-sense about waking up at 3 a.m. just as I am going to bed or about to fall asleep.